Thursday, June 30, 2005

Discussions and Phone Calls on CSPAN

This morning, I caught Rep. Blackburn (R) and Rep. Sanchez (D) on CSPAN answering questions and discussing Gitmo. These ladies are both on the House Armed Services Committee and were in the question and answer session on Tuesday with the commanders of Gitmo.

Before I go to far, I'd like commend these ladies for both avoiding, for the most part, partisan rhetoric on the subject. At least, until the last 10 or 15 minutes of the program. It got a little sticky there.

Both ladies had interesting points about what should be done at Gitmo. I'm not talking the abuse issue. I'm talking about who get's to make the rules and whether more guidance is needed. Do we need somebody to set the rules for tribunals? Who gets to say how long we will detain the EPWs?

Rep. Sanchez was good enough to point out that she believed these detainees were "EPWs" (non-uniformed combatants) as opposed to POWs and that, for all intents and purposes, under the Law of War and the Geneva Conventions, we do not have to give them any rights. However, we do choose to give them nearly every right guaranteed under the conventions except, of course, they are not immune to interrogations, particularly "coercive" interrogations, though all rules indicate that they cannot be tortured.

Rep. Sanchez did point out that it was Congress's job to regulate and over see the treatment and disposition of prisoners and that congress had abandoned the role to the administration. She said this without implying (too much) that the administration was intentionally trying to keep this out of congress's hands.

As it was a reasonable point, I thought I'd help Ms. Sanchez with a little back up (since she didn't come prepared to make that point beyond indicating the all knowing and all seeing Supreme Court told them so):

Article 1, Legislative Branch:

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

So, Ms. Sanchez is correct. It is Congress's job. One might wonder if the Democrat party was too busy talking about "gulags" to remember that it was their job to make sure it didn't turn into it? Some caller called in and said that the President should be put in front of an international tribunal for these infractions. The guy had to be at least 50 (and a smoker considering his voice). One might ask a sitting Democrat in congress if they would feel the same should they know, as a member of "this administration" and person responsible for over seeing this process that dereliction of duty is not a good defense for themselves, either?

I digress. Ms. Sanchez was right.

Ms. Blackburn responded by saying the military did not need to be micro managed. She also made one brief comment about the danger of letting our known interrogation methods and information come out in public tribunals which Ms. Sanchez advocates. I understand Ms. Blackburn's concern about "micro managing" the military. Mainly because some of Ms. Sanchez's compatriots are, shall we say, challenged in separating partisan searches for destructive materials against the administration from securing the nation. Pelosi recently called for another "transparent" committee on the subject. I'm thinking the House and Senate Armed Committees are the right place to discuss it and no other committees seem necessary. Right behind her was Reid and Rangel making noises about lies and such which did not give me a good feeling about what these folks were trying to accomplish.

If I felt that this was strictly for the purpose of congress taking on its responsibilities, I'd be fine, but I'm not sure these folks wouldn't sell us down the river a time or two, getting sound bites in Al Jazeera while trying to score political points. Who knew that the subject of prisoners in a time of war would be beaten to death as a partisan discussion?

Of course, one could wish that Ms. Blackburn wuld not have used the word "micro managed" because it implies that congress should take its hands off the military. That is a big no-no. I understand her concern about the opposition, but that does not set the right tone. If I was the Republicans, I would insist on some clear rules about about the expectations of any bill, guidance on tribunals or release of information since I don't put it past these folks t let something out in a moment of laissez politics.

The other concern from me is that, if congress decides or demands to have the military hold tribunals in a specific time frame that was too short, it may compromise our activities in on going investigations.

Ms. Sanchez insisted that there really could not be any "actionable" intelligence after prisoners were outside the organization for three years in detention and, even if they knew about a person three years ago and that person moved up in the organization, how much good could this really be? Almost sounds reasonable. However, this is one of those "semantic" arguments that needs some discussion.

Sort of like, "depends on what your definition of "is" is."

Ms. Sanchez is thinking about how much info could a guy give you that would let you go out tomorrow and scoop up some terrorists or off set a planned attack directly off the detainees info. Certainly, if someone could give you that, it would be "actionable".

However, Ms. Blackburn is correct as well, that info does come out and get used. Even if the guy in Gitmo only knew Abu X three years ago for a year or so, he would know things like where he was from, where his family was, who he hung out with, if he had a preference for a part of the world, etc, etc, etc. From that, someone could build an investigation to start finding this new leader character.

NO, it doesn't mean that a detainee can tell us something and we could run out the next day to catch the guy, but we shouldn't be telling these folks what our detainee informants are saying about them since it would make them change practices.

So, Ms. Sanchez is right semantically, but wrong on the over all. Or, at least, should take in consideration our concerns about "open" tribunals held too soon. That goes for our friendly Supreme Court, too.

Ms. Blackburn, I would add, should not try to keep Congress from its job by continuously invoking the "this wil hurt our troops" meme. But, I would sincerely support her if she said, "Partisan BS keeps me from supporting this idea since we all know what certain members of your party really want to do with this idea."

But, she really can't say it, so I suppose the troop thing is going to continue to be their excuse.

On a quick closing note, most of the callers were pretty decent until around 7:30 AM. At that point, you could tell the normal folks had went to work and all that was left were unemployed or retired. Both Republican and Democrat partisans came out of the wood work with finger pointing at that point instead of the nice calm questions from the earlier folks. However, the second thing I noticed was that by 8 AM, the only people that were calling in were Democrats. Except one guy. They had about 5 callers that were spouting off some true idiocy about international tribunals for the President and big lies and stealing the Americans blind and...and...

Well, Haliburton of course.

Oh...and the Downing Street Memos where the caller then insisted that everyone in the US was an idiot because we don't believe those memos say, "We're going to war tomorrow so get me a nifty presentation that makes the enemy look like an idiot and, no, I don't care what the reason is, make one up!"

She kept saying we should all research and read for ourselves.

Some folks should take their own advice. I did research and, you know, there is this funny thing where we do threat assessments and make pans for possible wars all the time and include our allies in the planning. Doesn't mean that we were planning to go all along, but we were planning in case we had to.

PS...Rush to war? A whole year of talking with allies and prepping is a "rush to war?" I'd hate to see the tortoise part of this race. Damn thing would be dead and dried up in the shell before it got off the starting line.

Semantics, semantics, semantics.

That's what it boils down to.

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